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Subdeacon Joe

He Had a Way with Words

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When I was in high school, we had a Lit teacher that would go through the Shakespearean plays line by line and translate it so we could understand what was going on (usually with a bit of commentary).  Once it was translated into something we could understand, there were very few in the class that wasn't interested in the plot.  She did the same thing with Canterbury Tales.

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16 minutes ago, Smuteye John SASS#24774 said:

When I was in high school, we had a Lit teacher that would go through the Shakespearean plays line by line and translate it so we could understand what was going on (usually with a bit of commentary).  Once it was translated into something we could understand, there were very few in the class that wasn't interested in the plot.  She did the same thing with Canterbury Tales.

 

There is a lovely little book, Shakespeare's Bawdy , that makes reading The Bard much more interesting.
 

Quote

Synopsis

This classic of Shakespeare scholarship begins with a masterly introductory essay analysing and exemplifying the various categories of sexual and non-sexual bawdy expressions and allusions in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. The main body of the work consists of an alphabetical glossary of all words and phrases used in a sexual or scatological sense, with full explanations and cross-references

 

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13 minutes ago, Subdeacon Joe said:

 

There is a lovely little book, Shakespeare's Bawdy , that makes reading The Bard much more interesting.
 

 

It's amazing to me how Shakespeare's works are considered by so many to be so stuffy, uptight and- frankly- boring.  Once you can understand the language, he definitely wasn't writing for uptight, stodgy old church ladies and their hen pecked husbands.   They weren't filling The Globe's seats- much less the peanut gallery. 

 

The folks in the pit right at the foot of the stage (where orchestras later ended up being placed) were the harshest and roughest critics.  You really can't call it the 'cheap seats' since there were no seats at all and they were usually drunk.  Poor performances routinely earned a pelting of the actor with discarded food, and whatever else may have been handy.

 

When you can pick up on the insults, slang (think of each play as a snapshot of the slang of Elizabethan London), innuendo, double entendre and the all important context, it's hilarious.  The wit and ability to turn a phrase is what's impressive.  Of course, the deniability of any 'perceived' insult is probably why old Will lived to die in bed.

 

Little things that we normally miss these days like the line 'to the wall with you' in Romeo and Juliet.  If you know the context and the habits of the time, then you know that line delivered to a man is calling him a sissy or a punk.  If a man and a woman was walking down the street, the man would take the street side with the woman towards the wall or storefronts. This kept her and her clothing safe from the splashes from passing wagons, carriages, horses, etc...  Delivered as it was between Romeo and some of his friends, it translates into something like, I'll protect you even if you are as sissy.

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5 minutes ago, Smuteye John SASS#24774 said:

It's amazing to me how Shakespeare's works are considered by so many to be so stuffy, uptight and- frankly- boring. 

 

A lot of that comes from how it is taught in high school English Lit.  (puts on snarky, whiney, "school marm" sing-song voice)  "Now, class, what was the author trying to say here?"  "Why did he say it that way?" "What is they rhyme sceme for this stanza?"  and all the rest of that dreck, taking it apart line by line and phrase by phrase, draining it of all meaning and grinding the beauty of it into the mud.  I think that the American school system has done more to make people dislike The Bard, and poetry, than anything else.  

They take something like

"Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one,"


and then butcher it to each line, with a pause at the end of each line as if each line was a complete thought, rather than having it roll and make sense, thus,

Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole had made his course to illume that part of heaven where now it burns, Marcellus and myself, the bell then beating one...


 

 



 

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19 minutes ago, Subdeacon Joe said:

 

A lot of that comes from how it is taught in high school English Lit.  (puts on snarky, whiney, "school marm" sing-song voice)  "Now, class, what was the author trying to say here?"  "Why did he say it that way?" "What is they rhyme sceme for this stanza?"  and all the rest of that dreck, taking it apart line by line and phrase by phrase, draining it of all meaning and grinding the beauty of it into the mud.  I think that the American school system has done more to make people dislike The Bard, and poetry, than anything else.  

They take something like

"Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one,"


and then butcher it to each line, with a pause at the end of each line as if each line was a complete thought, rather than having it roll and make sense, thus,

Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole had made his course to illume that part of heaven where now it burns, Marcellus and myself, the bell then beating one...


 

 



 

I think that a lot of the problem is that you have mechanics trying to explain art. 

 

They know the nuts and bolts of it- which is why they focus on structure, rhyme schemes and, frankly, over-analyzing in search for 'deeper meanings' for every word and phrase-  but they don't understand (and in some cases that I have witnessed, comprehend it) it at a more visceral level.

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15 minutes ago, Smuteye John SASS#24774 said:

I think that a lot of the problem is that you have mechanics trying to explain art. 

 

They know the nuts and bolts of it- which is why they focus on structure, rhyme schemes and, frankly, over-analyzing in search for 'deeper meanings' for every word and phrase-  but they don't understand (and in some cases that I have witnessed, comprehend it) it at a more visceral level.

 

One of the best examples of what you wrote:
 

 

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My junior year of high school English teacher, the late Miss Mary (name changed to protect somebody), was an avid Shakespeareophile.  She would annually attend the Festaville in Stratford, Canada.  An essay question on the final exam was, "Why do you think he wrote [this play...don't recall which one it was'?"  I wrote, "I think Shakespeare wrote this and other plays to entertain.  And if he knew we were going to be picking them apart in the future, he might not have written them at all!"  I passed the course with a 72 (70 being the minimum passing grade)!  I don't think she appreciated my sentiments.  P.S., I still feel that way!  And I enjoy Shakespeare!

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I adore Shakespeare and do not lionize him.  He was the Neil Simon of his day and, as Don Marquis was known to remark (in Archy and Mehitabel): Will and I are sometimes coarse.  If you're having problems with the language, I suggest reading the plays out loud.  This generally takes care of the problem, even if you don't get all the jokes.   

One of the funniest things I have ever seen in my lengthy life was Durham School of the Arts' student production of A Midsomer Night's Dream.  Their director let the kids go with it (and apparently they had a teacher who explained some things to them) and I applaud him for it -- the Bard himself couldn't have staged it any better.  Not everyone agreed -- the man sitting next to me remarked (with THAT look on his face):  Isn't this a bit risque for High School?  I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face from laughing.

Whatever you think of our Will, he was the undisputed master of the language of the day, matched only by the committee who put together the King James version of the Bible - still my favorite, tho it may be a lousy translation.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Trailrider #896 said:

My junior year of high school English teacher, the late Miss Mary (name changed to protect somebody), was an avid Shakespeareophile.  She would annually attend the Festaville in Stratford, Canada.  An essay question on the final exam was, "Why do you think he wrote [this play...don't recall which one it was'?"  I wrote, "I think Shakespeare wrote this and other plays to entertain.  And if he knew we were going to be picking them apart in the future, he might not have written them at all!"  I passed the course with a 72 (70 being the minimum passing grade)!  I don't think she appreciated my sentiments.  P.S., I still feel that way!  And I enjoy Shakespeare!

Shakespeare wrote- and acted in- plays for a living. 

 

There's little difference between his motivation and why Edgar Rice Burroughs, Louis L'Amour, Robert E Howard or any of the other pulp writers of the '20's and '30's wrote their stories.  It was a business and beat taking up a trade or working on a cattle ranch or as an oilfield roughneck. 

 

If your work was popular, you made the owners of the theatre more money and could charge more for next play.  In Shakespeare's case, he was brought inside as a part owner.  If they wouldn't pay that much and your reputation for churning out good plays was high enough, then you go to their competition, let them buy it and advertise it as 'Shakespeare's new play....' at their venue.  If you were really lucky, you found a noble or royal patron that would support you while you wrote.  In exchange, you wrote plays especially for their big galas or other special events like weddings.

 

Either way, it was all about the shillings.

 

Understanding that it was a business and that he was catering to his audience (or his patron) is the big reason why I take all of the 'deeper meaning' stuff that Lit majors adore with a healthy pinch of salt. 

 

I'm not saying that there isn't a hidden meaning in some of his works (either thematic or just in particular passages) but I seriously doubt there's some hidden meaning of astounding philosophical depth through out.  He wrote for  the denizens of the Pit mentioned above as much as he wrote for the Quality- and, in some cases, even more so.

Edited by Smuteye John SASS#24774
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1 hour ago, MizPete said:

Not everyone agreed -- the man sitting next to me remarked (with THAT look on his face):  Isn't this a bit risque for High School? 

 

My wife has been a singer for almost all of her life. School choirs, church choirs, misc. others.  Very good voice.  Not quite a first soprano, but her voice helps blend all the others. She loves to tell of, when in junior high, the girls choir sang "I'd Enter Your Garden" by Brahms.  Below is a performance buy another choir:
 

 

Lyrics:
 

I'd enter your garden,
If I dare be so bold.
For such blushing roses,
Are fair to behold.
Sweet maiden let me pluck them
For 'tis their loveliest hour.
Since their beauty
Has won me
My heart's in their pow'r.

O, Maiden! O, Maiden!
In your garden alone.
Why hide you the flowers' til
Their fragrance has flown.
O grant to me
The pleasure
For which I fondly sigh,
That your cheeks are
The roses
I cannot deny.

Right, a flock of barely nubile girls singing about a guy wanting to seduce a maiden. Talk about "risque."
 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Smuteye John SASS#24774 said:

I'm not saying that there isn't a hidden meaning in some of his works (either thematic or just in particular passages) but I seriously doubt there's some hidden meaning of astounding philosophical depth through out.  He wrote for  the denizens of the Pit mentioned above as much as he wrote for the Quality- and, in some cases, even more so.

 

I will disagree, but only slightly, and with much respect. While I don't believe there was deep hidden meaning to his work, I do believe there was meaning that one needed to look beyond face value to understand, particularly in his tragedies. I will also say there was philosophical depth to many of his works, otherwise, we wouldn't be marveling over them over four hundred years after the fact. The wonder is, Shakespeare wrote for the Pit, and for his benefactors. There is a reason that after James I, who was fascinated with the occult, took the throne, that many of Shakespeare's works took on a more supernatural tenor.

 

I was fortunate to have a couple of good English teachers in high school who taught Shakespeare well. One, Mr. Webb, did it particularly well. In college, I was extremely fortunate to have an excellent Shakespeare professor (who was also apparently an Army Ranger in Vietnam, but that's another story), who taught me to go from merely liking and enjoying Shakespeare to loving and appreciating his work. I can still recall a number of his comments to us. "Don't worry about the meter! Shakespeare didn't! By this time he was playing fast and lose with it!" And after my small group performed the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet with Romeo as a voyeur (with a bit of comedy thrown in), a student objected on the basis that the play is about "true love." Dr. Prindle responded "Hogwash. It's a very reasonable interpretation. You're talking about two hormonally charged teenagers who got the hots for one another after seeing each other across a ballroom."

Edited by DocWard
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, DocWard said:

 

I will disagree, but only slightly, and with much respect. While I don't believe there was deep hidden meaning to his work, I do believe there was meaning that one needed to look beyond face value to understand, particularly in his tragedies. I will also say there was philosophical depth to many of his works, otherwise, we wouldn't be marveling over them over four hundred years after the fact. The wonder is, Shakespeare wrote for the Pit, and for his benefactors. There is a reason that after James I, who was fascinated with the occult, took the throne, that many of Shakespeare's works took on a more supernatural tenor.

 

I was fortunate to have a couple of good English teachers in high school who taught Shakespeare well. One, Mr. Webb, did it particularly well. In college, I was extremely fortunate to have an excellent Shakespeare professor (who was also apparently an Army Ranger in Vietnam, but that's another story), who taught me to go from merely liking and enjoying Shakespeare to loving and appreciating his work. I can still recall a number of his comments to us. "Don't worry about the meter! Shakespeare didn't! By this time he was playing fast and lose with it!" And after my small group performed the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet with Romeo as a voyeur (with a bit of comedy thrown in), a student objected on the basis that the play is about "true love." Dr. Prindle responded "Hogwash. It's a very reasonable interpretation. You're talking about two hormonally charged teenagers who got the hots for one another after seeing each other across a ballroom."

I wasn't clear in my previous post.  My point was more the compulsive search for a hidden or deeper meaning and nuances in every passage or turn of phrase by parsing every sonnet or play is just silly.

 

The whole, "What did the Bard mean when he wrote this passage?" question that every Lit student has struggled to answer for the last century or two is a great example.  The man had a gift for writing with astounding depth but he also didn't do it every time he took up a quill or every scene in every play.

Edited by Smuteye John SASS#24774
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1 minute ago, Smuteye John SASS#24774 said:

I wasn't clear in my previous post.  My point was more the compulsive search for a hidden or deeper meaning and nuances in every passage or turn of phrase by parsing every sonnet or play just silly.

 

The whole, "What did the Bard mean when he wrote this passage?" question that every Lit student has struggled to answer for the last century or two is a great example.  The man had a gift for writing with astounding depth but he also didn't do it every time he took up a quill or every scene in every play.

 

Thanks for the clarification. Scratch the disagreement part. I agree!

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24 minutes ago, Smuteye John SASS#24774 said:

My point was more the compulsive search for a hidden or deeper meaning and nuances in every passage or turn of phrase by parsing every sonnet or play is just silly.

 

The whole, "What did the Bard mean when he wrote this passage?" question that every Lit student has struggled to answer

 

Not just silly, but often counterproductive.  Rather than giving the student a deeper appreciation of what the poet wrote, it can kill any appreication that might have been there in the first place.

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